If you read the prestigious global media websites, one thing which stands out between these and the Kenyan media is the sheer variety of sources that their erudite media pundits will quote in seeking to drive home their points.
Whereas in Kenya, the longstanding love affair between our local commentators and the 15th Century Italian political philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, still runs strong. And barely a month will pass without some writer commenting on Kenyan political trends, quoting from Machiavelli, or describing some scheme as “Machiavellian”.
So, in keeping with this noble tradition, I offer a quote from Machiavelli which is of some relevance to the Deputy President, Dr William Ruto, who — depending on whom you believe — is either on an easy cruise to victory in the 2022 presidential election, or else, so deeply compromised that he has effectively lost this race already.
In my view, there is no reason why Dr Ruto should not at some point be the president of this country. Stranger things have happened. The real question here is not whether he can attain such victory, but rather, whether he is going about it the right way.
It is at this point that he needs to heed Machiavelli:
“A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it. Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach.”
And as we have, previously, only had three presidents — or in Machiavelli’s words, “those who have been supreme” — he has a very short list of “great men” to study and emulate.
There is room for a variety of opinions on this, but in my assessment, what all our three former presidents showed — above all else — was an incredible capacity for patience in the face of discouragement.
This is something I have had occasion to point out before: Was not Jomo Kenyatta, already well past middle age, when he was detained for about seven years for agitating for majority rule in Kenya? And, prior to that, was he not effectively in self-imposed exile, agitating for independence during his long stay in the UK?
And yet he persevered for all those decades, until (in his late 60s) he was finally sworn in as president in 1964.
As for his successor, Daniel arap Moi, his path to the presidency involved a 15-year obstacle course, during which he was despised by the inner circles of the Kenyatta government, and treated with open contempt. He was to have his revenge when he was sworn in as President in 1978, and those who had earlier rejoiced in tormenting him were brought down to the dust, one after another.
Mwai Kibaki too did not have an easy stroll to the presidency. The graph of his political career may well have been on a steady upward trajectory for the first decades of his political career (Assistant Minister in the 1960s, Cabinet Minister in the 1970s, Vice President from 1978 ). But thereafter he was first relegated to the status of ‘an ordinary Minister’ in the late 1980s. And not until the return to multiparty politics was he able to embark on the 10-year effort that finally saw him ascend to the presidency.
So here are three men who were really very different. In Kenyatta, we had a heroic Founding Father. In Moi, we had possibly the most cunning political operator ever, with a gift for encouraging his opponents to underestimate him. And Kibaki, by all accounts, is a thoroughly decent man, and for long was hailed as “the gentleman of Kenyan politics”.
What they had in common was that rare capacity for patience in the face of adversity.
And that is what Dr Ruto most needs now.